Responding to babies’ food preferences at mealtimes
The guide to the NEW National Quality Framework states:
“Assessors may observe educators responding to babies’ verbal and non-verbal cues about their preferred food preferences and meal times.”
To meet the assessment criteria, it’s important that all staff involved in feeding babies at meal times are responding to the cues they receive from infants.
While babies may not be able to tell us how they feel, they certainly have their own ways of showing whether they like or dislike something. A baby’s facial expressions and body language can tell you a lot about how much they like a new food. These verbal and non verbal cues are particularly important to observe and respond to when feeding infants at mealtimes.
Signs a baby is enjoying a food:
- Leans in when food or spoon is being presented.
- Opens mouth easily when food offered
- Tracks food with eyes
- Pointing to preferred food to indicate wanting more
- Smiling and content
Signs a baby is not interested in the food being offered:
- Turns head away when presented with spoon or finger food
- Pushes spoon or finger food away with hands
- Keeps mouth tightly closed
- Repeatedly spits food out when offered
- Pushes the food back out with their tongue
- Gets cranky
How to respond to their cues:
- Respect an infant’s individual likes and dislikes. If they indicate they want more of something, offer more. If they don’t like an option being offered, try something else and reoffer this food at another mealtime.
- Acknowledge verbally and discuss with baby that you can see they are enjoying/not enjoying the food. Consider why – is it sweet, cold or savoury. All this discussion keeps the mealtime positive, social and is great for language acquisition.
- Don’t continue forcing the baby to eat the food being offered. If they have lost interest then end the mealtime. Consider if we were introducing a new toy, and the child was not interested, we wouldn’t continue pushing the toy on them. Responding the same way with food is important.
- Praise the infant and offer smiles and eye contact when trying something new or experimenting with finger foods.
- If they are turning their head away or showing a low level of interest, do not prolong the mealtime or try to distract the infant in the hope they will eat more.